Thursday, February 11, 2010

Standing Close to Andy Summers

As promised, here's my report on One Train Later by Andy Summers.

Copeland's book is still the best of the lot, but this really was a fun read, too.

For instance, I love this part about having money.
Having money, one realizes after a while, is very nice, but you need to develop a razor-edged awareness if you want to hang onto it. There is a large number of thieves disguised as angels out there who can't wait to relieve you of your burden. They slip under your door, confront you in dark hallways, slighter through the letter box, whisper in tones of silk, infiltrate your life with the stealth of a cell quietly dividing. The water has fangs, and the only way to make it to land is by keeping your head up and thinking about the next song.

- One Train Later by Andy Summers, pp. 313.

The title refers to the couple days they were discussing dropping their current guitarist and going with Andy. (Andy said he would not join the band if the other guitarist stayed, which was what Sting and Stewart wanted, but Andy knew he couldn't blend with the other guy's style.) Stewart and Andy happened to disembark from the same London train, laughed at the coincidence, then went for coffee where the deal was sealed. So, had either been on one train later, there would've been no Police.

One surprising bit of trivia was two-fold: Summers was Neil Sedaka's guitarist for a while. Yes, Mr. Every Breath You Take made his daily bread for a while by playing "Calendar Girl" and "Laughter in the Rain." The second surprise is that Sedaka is one of the American artists who's more popular in Britain than he is here.

My favorite section of the book is excerpted below. It's about how Summers did the guitar part to "Every Breath You Take" in one take and other ephemera about the recording of the album.
The linchpin of Synchronicity is a song called "Every Breath You Take." When Sting first plays us his demo, it sounds not unlike the group Yes with a huge rolling synthesizer part. It needs work, needs the stripped-down guitar and drums treatment, bur it has something. More obvious than some of Sting's material, it has a classic pop song chord sequence with a dramatic C section bur it needs clarity. This song is the one that gets the most argument. Sting and Stewart go on endlessly about the drums and bass -- how they should underpin the vocal -- but after a couple of weeks we get a track down with just bass and drums and a token vocal to give us some perspective.

Feeling slightly numb, we sit on the couch at a creative standstill. Sting leans over and says, "Go on, go in there, make it your own." This is either a beautiful example of trust between partners or is tantamount to being told to jump off a cliff, prove you're a man , or walk the gang plank. But there she is, a nice naked track, waiting to be ruined or trimmed with gold by yours truly. "Right," I say, "right," and heave my bum up off the deep plush and toward the direction of the big room. In the engulfing loneliness of the empty studio I am hyperaware that everyone is watching and listening. This will be the naked truth.

I pick up my Strat and stare out across the gloom. It's a simple chord sequence and shouldn't prove a problem, depending on one's imagination, inspiration, and context. What are the criteria? It should sound like the Police -- big, brutal barre chords won't do, too vulgar; it has to be something that says Police but doesn't get in the way of the vocals; it should exist as music in its own right, universal but with just a hint of irony, be recognized the world over, possibly be picked up by a rapper as the guitar lick to hang a thirty-million-copy song on in eleven years or so. "Yeah, okay," "roll it, " I say. The track rolls and I play a sequence of intervals that outline the chords and add a nifty little extension to each one that makes it sound like the Police, root, fifth, second, third, up and down through each chord. It is clean, succinct, immediately identifiable; it has just enough of the signature sound of el Policia. I play it straight through in one take. There is a brief silence, and then everyone in the control room stands up and cheers. It is an emotional and triumphant moment, and it will take us to number one in America.

With this lick I realize a dream that maybe I have cherished since first picking up the guitar as a teenager -- to at least once in my life make something that would go around the world, create a lick that guitarists everywhere would play, be number one in America, be heard at weddings, bar mitzvahs, births, funerals, be adapted into the repertoire of brass bands in the north of England, and make my mum and dad proud. Do you ever really get beyond them? Maybe not and maybe this is where the story should fade out, with me standing there, grinning like an idiot, feeling like a hero and just happy to have pleased.


Laying down the guitar part for "Every Breath You Take" clears the air and increases the chances that we have a hit album. Whether it will reach number one is not a certainty, but we all hope for it. From Montserrat we return once again to Le Studio in Canada to mix the album. Generally we let Hugh Padgham prepare the mixes to a point, and then we come into the control room to fine-tune the mix ourselves. But I receive a nasty shock when sitting down to hear the mix of "Every Breath." The thick creamy Strat sound I had in Montserrat has been reduced to a thin over-reverbed whine. I become extremely upset and tell Hugh to go back immediately to the rough mix from Montserrat, check the sound, and get it back. Luckily, we still have the rough mixes. It takes a couple of days, but we get the guitar sounding almost as good as the rough mix. But to my mind, it is not quite the same. The track is almost stillborn, but it has a future to fulfill.


We struggle on through the mixing and end the sessions with a ridiculous scene in which we toss a coin to see which tracks will go onto the album. Will Stewart and I get our songs on? Is it fair to let the whole album be only Sting's songs? Miles valiantly tries to hold some sort of democracy together so some of us don't go away feeling pissed off and alienated. What will the final sequence be? I finally solve that one by suggesting that maybe we put all the softer songs on one side and the up-tempo stuff on the other. Sting likes this idea, and thus it is ordained.

- One Train Later by Andy Summers, pp. 323-325.

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